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Children as young as five years old forced to work in India's coal mines

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

With no food to eat, and with dependent families, thousands of Indian children in Jharkhand wake up each day to scratch out a living in the nation's cola mines. Despite the 1952 Indian Mines Act that forbids that no one person under the age of 18 can be employed in the mines, many children do so anyway.
 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "I used to study, but then who will earn for my family? There is no other option. All my family members have to work together all day so that we don't starve from hunger," 12-year-old Rakesh Kumar says. "On a normal day, we earn 200 rupees ($3.60) by going into these mines."

Schools are scarce in Jharkhand, and education is often seen to be a luxury. "We know that we are gambling with our lives, and our children's lives, every day - but with no poverty alleviation projects or alternate forms of employment reaching this part of the state, we are forced to mine coal for our livelihood," Shanti Tete, a woman working in the mines said.

While Jharkhand is mineral-rich, a majority of its people are dirt poor. In India, 28 million children work to supplement their families' meager income. At least 400,000 children between the ages of five and 14 work in Jharkhand, many in the coal mines.

Fatal cave-ins in these mines are frequently reported, but the local children here have few choices. "I know there is danger in this work, but at the end of the day, it is the money that matters," one child miner said.

Each year, the mines in this area kill around 20 workers including six or seven children. Illegal mining also bleeds the government of revenue. "Because of unauthorized mining, coal companies bear a loss of $20 million per year, and [the] state government suffers a loss of $6.2m every year," Radhe Ramen, the deputy director of the mining department says.

The government has failed to curb the illegal trade and all its attendant evils. "We tried to enroll people in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act work, but people do not want to get involved as they do not see enough money," Santhosh Satpathy of Jharkhand's rural development department says.

As many as "10,000 families might be earning their livelihood by 'rat-hole' mining in the area", he said. "As the area has a history of mining - both legal and illicit - one solution may be to legalize the unlawful mining, and provide workers with sufficient safety training."

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